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Education Opinion

What Kind of Programs Can Help Teacher Diversity?

By Guest Blogger — February 08, 2019 3 min read
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Kicking off this round of guest bloggers is Constance Lindsay, research associate at the Urban Institute. Constance previously served as a presidential management fellow at the U.S. Department of Education, and she was also responsible for implementing teacher evaluation and preparation legislation for DC Public Schools and the State of Delaware. She’ll be talking about teacher diversity, teacher preparation, and school quality.

As we approach the 65th anniversary of the Brown v. Board decision, the education field faces an increasingly diverse student body coupled with persistent racial/ethnic equity and opportunity gaps. Low levels of teacher diversity in U.S. elementary and secondary schools represent a wasted opportunity to narrow these achievement gaps. The evidence is clear that students of color have better outcomes in the classrooms with teachers of color, but the teaching workforce remains predominantly white. Students of color with same-race teachers not only perform better on standardized tests; they are also less likely to face exclusionary discipline and drop out of high school.

But the lack of teacher diversity is stubbornly persistent. Teachers of color are underrepresented at all stages of the human capital pipeline into teaching, and demographic projections suggest that the problem is likely to worsen. While the research grows on the benefits of diverse teachers for all students, the critical next step is to identify what state/local policymakers and other education stakeholders can do to develop, recruit, and retain a diverse, high-quality workforce. The preparation and development of culturally competent, diverse teachers will be a challenge to the profession as the public school student body becomes increasingly diverse. Teachers of color are more likely to enter the classroom via alternative route programs as compared to white teachers. However, little is known about how and why these programs can produce diverse teacher candidates. In particular, “Grow Your Own” programs are one promising subset of these alternative route programs.

Grow Your Own teacher programs are programs that exist outside of the traditional teacher preparation space that seek to develop, prepare, and place teachers in schools. They include, but are not limited to, teacher residency programs. These are local efforts that seek to remedy shortages of all sorts in the teacher labor market. These programs can also serve as a way for districts with relatively unique needs and labor market challenges to grow talent to meet those needs.

Teacher residency programs have shown success in developing and retaining diverse teachers. An evaluation of the Boston Teacher Residency (BTR) showed that BTR graduates are more racially diverse than other Boston Public Schools novices, more likely to teach STEM courses, and have longer tenure through Year 5 than other teachers who enter through different pathways. Although the Boston Teacher Residency was not explicitly developed to foster diversity, the findings are promising. Other programs such as Urban Teachers in Washington, DC, purport to have over half of their entering cohorts identifying as persons of color.

In a literature review highlighting the need for additional research, Conra Gist and colleagues emphasize the need for evaluations and research to consider the unique challenges of developing teachers of color who bring cultural competencies into their classrooms. Existing evaluations indicate that Grow Your Own programs are promising strategies for teacher diversity and training. For example, Project Nueva Generacion was a joint effort between a community-based organization and traditional teacher-preparation program where residents in a Latinx community attend college and earn a bachelor’s degree and teacher credentials. Bartow and colleagues evaluated the program and emphasized how Project Nueva Generacion filled needed positions in both urban and rural communities.

The renewed focus on recruiting and retaining teachers of color has led to the next generation of locally developed Grow Your Own programs. These programs (such as Profound Gentleman in Charlotte, NC, and Man the Bay in Oakland, CA) represent an exciting opportunity to diversify the teacher workforce and an opportunity for researchers to evaluate the programs and strengthen them while contributing to the larger literature on teachers of color. These programs have a tremendous opportunity to close equity gaps and improve outcomes for students of color.

—Constance Lindsay

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